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Relationships and What I Learned at College

By , 19, Contributor Originally Published: July 6, 2023 Revised: July 6, 2023

I just wrapped up my first year of college and transitioning was challenging at first. My classes were difficult, I missed the comfort of home and I felt pressure that I needed to know what I wanted to do with my life, even if I had no clue. But while I did learn a lot about physics and calculus, I’m most surprised by how much I learned about myself.

Going into freshman year, my social expectations for college were largely based on movies and TV showing lots of partying, hooking up and embracing your independence. While my experience felt a little tamer than most Hollywood depictions, I do now have a better understanding of who I am and what I value in relationships.

My First College Crush

Early in the fall semester, I met a guy in Physics I for Engineering Students (how romantic!). We would talk occasionally, which eventually turned into exchanging numbers and sitting next to each other at lectures every morning.

He told me I looked pretty, held my hand while I took notes in class and asked me to watch sunsets together at the park. His attention made me feel good about myself.

This was my first college romance, and everything seemed to be going well. We went on a couple of dates and he told me he wanted to “officially” start dating. I was elated by the possibility of a long-term relationship with someone I really liked.

Red Flags

As the weeks passed by, I wanted to spend more time with him. But his texts slowly became less frequent.

Even though he told me he liked me, his actions were saying something different.

I would often reach out first, but plans never panned out when I asked to meet. More than once, he’d cancel, hours after we’d agreed to meet up, because he was either “too tired” or “needed the next day to study.”

The only times he asked to see me were in the middle of the night, after he was finished making the rounds at some frat party. Even though I was tired, I would put on a thick jacket over my pajamas to meet him on a bench outside, since this was the only time we got to spend alone.

I now see that his lack of effort to make time for me was a red flag. Even though he told me he liked me, his actions were saying something different. We had never talked about what “officially” dating meant exactly, but I imagined it wasn’t this.

Trying to Be Someone I Wasn’t

I started to realize that everything was on his terms. On Friday and Saturday nights I would constantly check my phone, whether I was out with friends or staying in, expectantly waiting for a text. When he didn’t send one, I was disappointed.

I felt embarrassed asking to hang out, only for him to flake. I tried to pretend like what we’d been doing was enough, convincing myself that maybe I was asking for too much from someone I wasn’t even in a committed relationship with. I told myself that a “cool” girl wouldn’t need attention from a guy, so I shouldn’t care.

I couldn’t admit that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.

A Turning Point

Then my roommate, who’s become one of my closest friends, approached me. “It makes me upset to see how he’s treating you,” she said. “You deserve better.”

Hearing this showed me what a healthy relationship—romantic or not—looks like. She cared about me, so she reached out.

In order to hold onto the feeling that someone was paying attention to me, I’d sacrificed my needs. But I realized that having needs doesn’t make me an inconvenience. If someone wanted to hang out with me, wouldn’t they make the time?

Where Is This Going?

A couple of days before winter break, I decided to say something to the guy. We’d been talking for over three months, and I had hoped we’d be exclusive by this point, considering he had asked to start dating weeks before. When I asked him where he saw our relationship going, he told me he wasn’t sure and was “fine with anything.”

I had wanted a more romantic, reassuring response. What happened to wanting to be with me? Did he not care? But in the end, I didn’t say anything about how I was confused and hurt.

He ended up ghosting me over the break, and despite the small bit of hope I held out for a reconnection, we haven’t talked since. I know I could have communicated how I felt earlier. But I was terrified of being vulnerable, and scared of being rejected.

Silver Lining

If I could go back in time, I’d be kinder to myself. I see now that it’s OK to not always know what to do when it comes to communicating needs in a relationship. I’m trying to be more forgiving of myself. In the future, I’d like to prioritize talking openly with partners, to make sure we’re on the same page.

It’s also OK to be nervous—whether because of college, relationships or the future in general. I don’t have to face these challenges alone.

After my first year of college, I’ve gained self-worth. I plan to continue to celebrate these victories with the supportive friends I’ve made that will be there for me, through anything.

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